As a person who always faces sickness and people who are swimming in great and raging seas of distress I am always comforted by the above quotation that Jesus spoke to his disciples when he sent them to evangelise both by their words as well as by the signs that accompanied that life-giving word they were spreading around.
As an excellent mentor, supervisor and carer, Jesus, upon hearing his apostles’ de-briefings of what they had done and taught (Mark 6:30), instead of loading them with other tasks he had in mind to do, instead he clearly chose to care for them saying: Come away by yourselves to a lonely place, and rest a while (Mark 6:30). From this biblical pericope it seems that Jesus was well aware in what context he and his disciples were working in. He knew they were badly needed. The Gospel is so clear of this reality when it magnificiently tells us: For many were coming and going, and they had no leisure even to eat (Mark 6:31). Knowing who Jesus was and how much he truly cared for them his disciples felt it so natural to talk over what they did. It is amazing that Jesus’ immediate reply for them was rest. Self-care. In order to let His loving presence recreate them for further work in the near future. Jesus was so decisive in caring for his disciples that he immediately took them out of the stressful working context they were working in. The Gospel highlights Jesus caring attitude towards his disciples by saying: And they went away in the boat to a lonely place by themselves (Mark 6:32).
Obviously this way of resting should not just be the bread and butter of those who work in God’s vineyard but also of those who render a service to others. It is good that we serve and serve with the best of our abilities. But, and for truth’s, justice’s, and human dignity’s sake, let us not pretend to work miracles either. If an organization, of whatever type, be it secular or ecclesial, does not care for its workers, who will then care for them? Thus, the more workers are cared for the more and the happily they can deliver. On their part workers too have their share in the responsibility of caring for themselves. They cannot pretend that others anticipate their needs. Thus, they need to voice responsibly their concerns in order that a reasonable workload is distributed among everyone involved in that organization, be it secular or ecclesial.
Seeing the seriousness of this subject-matter as well as it catastrophic consequences for the person and the organization alike when it is brutally, unjustly and incredibly neglected let us delve deeper into what can be done in order to assure that one is taking care of himself and herself adequately and responsibly.
There are some practical tips that can be acted upon in order to administer self-care successfully. In the bodily and physical arena regular exercise, healthy diet, adequate sleep, regular general physical checkups, relaxation techniques etc. Regarding the emotional field, self-awareness, self-expression, communication, assertiveness, creative work, music and art, intimacy, friendship, support are helpful mechanisms. Concerning the mind-cognitive aspect positive inner dialogue, challenging faulty beliefs, constant learning, problem-solving, and lateral thinking are fruitful. Finally, within the spiritual dimension meditation, prayer, spiritual retreats, upholding positive values and principles, clear mission statement, and integrity are pivotal.
What action can you take? First, be aware of how you feel in different circumstances. If you can recognise the ‘early warning signs’ of compassion fatigue then you can take steps to take care of yourself. Secondly, put boundaries in place between work and home. These could be simple techniques such as leaving your work ‘thoughts’ somewhere on the way home and picking them back up again when you are next travelling to work… Thirdly, put in boundaries with the organisation you work with. Start and finish on time. Work smarter not longer. Fourth, get GOOD professional support and supervision. Supervision is the key in protecting yourself from compassion fatigue. Having the opportunity to de-brief and talk through your experience is key. Peer supervision is also healthy. Fifth, decide on how you will deal with the things you can’t control…mindfulness…Life is a short and precious gift and you are in the perfect work to make a difference in the lives of people. Challenge your current habits and ways of thinking, and be re-energised.
Sixth, learn to be your best self; play to your strengths; be adaptive; appreciate the moment; remember YOU AREA HUMAN “BEING” NOT A HUMAN “DOING”. Seventh, deal with the guilt. If your work/life balance is making you feel guilty, find ways to regain your balance. Acknowledge that you can’t change the world for everybody. Eighth, make some time for you. What makes you happy? When was the last time you had some fun? Spend time with family and friends who make you smile and give you energy. The best workers spend time doing things for themselves as well as other people. Ninth, look at your diet and exercise – are there changes there that you can make? Research shows that gentle exercise can help with a feeling of well-being (and we should be eating a balanced diet, not over indulging on the alcohol front etc). Tenth, talk amongst yourselves – others may be experiencing compassion fatigue but feel too guilty to talk about it.
Eleventh, the more you talk about compassion fatigue, the more you normalise it and people can get the support they need. Workers who are supported are much more able to support others. Twelfth, take a break; sometimes you may feel like you need a break to regain your balance. Much better to take a short break than to get overwhelmed and feel you have to leave for good. Thirteenth, share the changes you are going to make and ask your colleagues to help keep you on track. When you share your goals with other people it makes them much more real, and helps you be more accountable for your actions. Fourteenth, learn to say ‘No’. Are you the person who is the ‘go-to’ person every time something needs doing? How does that make you feel (it may tap into one of your ‘shadow needs’ – the need to be needed, so be honest here). How can you learn to say no better? Fifteenth, learn to say ‘Yes’! Compassion fatigue can leave you exhausted, demoralised and lacking in energy, so you stop doing the things that make you happy and rejuvenated. Start saying ‘yes’ to walks by the sea, training sessions that become available, times of sharing with your community etc.
As a conclusion, choosing to start with one or 2 simple changes will give you the impetus to keep going. You may be looking at the list above and be thinking ‘Yeah, right – that’s NEVER going to happen’. Well, it’s your choice. But remember: “If you always do what you always did, you’ll always get what you always got.” So, the choice is in your hands!
How practical and workable endeavor is Jesus’ summons to all of us who care for others: Come away by yourselves to a lonely place, and rest a while (Mark 6:30).
Fr Mario Attard OFM Cap